US allowed 'limited' military role, agrees on draft pact with Afghanistan

The agreement reached Wednesday is far from complete. The document now goes to the Loya Jirga, a 3,000-member council of elders who have the right to revise or reject any clause of the draft agreement.

hidden November 21, 2013 06:51:13 IST
US allowed 'limited' military role, agrees on draft pact with Afghanistan

Washington: Secretary of State John Kerry says the US and Afghanistan have agreed on the language of a bilateral security pact that could clear the way for thousands of US troops to train and assist Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.

The agreement reached Wednesday is far from complete. The document now goes to the Loya Jirga, a 3,000-member council of elders who have the right to revise or reject any clause of the draft agreement. Whatever they agree upon then goes to the Afghan parliament, which could make still more changes before the agreement is approved.

On the US side, only the Obama administration needs to approve the agreement, but it could reject the changes made by Afghan officials. If it does, that leaves open the option for the U.S. to pull all troops out of Afghanistan. Such was the case in Iraq, when the US and Iraq couldn't agree on terms of a security arrangement. Sectarian violence has plagued the country since, and some fear Afghanistan could head down that path without a continued US presence until Afghan forces can defend the country themselves.

US allowed limited military role agrees on draft pact with Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that the final draft of a Bilateral Security Agreement with the US has been completed ahead of a traditional loya Jirga. Both countries have signed off on the draft. AP

Kerry said the language, agreed to after about a year of tense on-again, off-again negotiations, will be reflected in the draft proposal presented Thursday to the Loya Jirga in Kabul.

"There were some people who may have questioned or doubted whether that was going to happen. Well, it's happening tomorrow, and it's happening tomorrow with agreed-upon language between us," Kerry said during a news conference at the State Department with Australian officials and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"We have agreed on the language that would be submitted to the Loya Jirga, but they have to pass it," Kerry said.

The agreement would give the US a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to use bases across the country.

US officials have not yet disclosed the number of US troops they want to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. US officials have said the US and NATO could keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops there. Of those, the US is expected to provide no more than 8,000.

Kerry said that whatever the number, the role of the US military would be "limited."

"It is entirely train, equip and assist. There is no combat role for United States forces, and the bilateral security agreement is a way to try to clarify for Afghans and for United States military forces exactly what the rules are with respect to that ongoing relationship," he said.

Karzai's office posted a copy of the draft proposal on its website on Wednesday.

According to the draft posted on the website, the agreement, as expected, gives the US legal jurisdiction over troops and Defense Department civilians, while contractors would be subject to the Afghan judicial process. Deep divisions in Afghanistan over legal immunity for American soldiers and contractors as well as night raids had threatened to scuttle diplomatic efforts.

The pact also provides for US counterterrorism operations in coordination with the Afghans, with the goal that the Afghan forces should be in the lead. It also notes that US troops will not conduct combat operations unless they are "mutually agreed" on by the US and Afghans.

On the sensitive issue of US troops going into Afghan homes, the agreement says that US forces should not "target Afghan civilians, including in their homes, consistent with Afghan law and the United States forces' rules of engagement." It also says that US counterterrorism operations should be conducted with "full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes."

An additional line says that "US forces can only enter Afghan homes in extraordinary circumstances when the life or limb of Americans is at stake," according to a US official. The official, who said this language is the only line missing from the draft posted on the website, was not authorized to discuss the details of the document with the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry and Karzai spoke by phone on Wednesday for the second time in two days.

On Tuesday, Karzai invited Kerry to attend the Loya Jirga. Kerry has no plans to attend, but he offered the idea of providing reassurances about the US.-Afghan security relationship in addressing past issues, such as civilians casualties, which have been discussed many times. The deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of US-led NATO forces have been a sensitive issue in the US-Afghanistan relationship, although more Afghan civilians die as a result of insurgent attacks.

The State Department said those assurances might be offered in the form of a letter or another format, but that nothing had been decided.

Kerry said it's up to Karzai to convene and direct the gathering of elders and it's up to President Barack Obama and the White House to address any issues related to any possible communication with Karzai. "So let's see where we are, but the important thing for people to understand is there has never been a discussion of or the word apology used in our discussions whatsoever," he said.

AP

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